Alabama’s natural beauty is one of our state’s greatest assets. There are few things on God’s earth more majestic than the flight of an eagle across a deep gorge at Little River Canyon or more stunning than a sunset along the beaches of Mobile Bay. Like many of you, I have fond memories of spending summer days as a child playing in the streams, woods, and along the beaches of our state.
On the November 8th ballot, there are fourteen statewide amendments that deal with various issues. But to my mind, the most important is Amendment 2, which will protect funding for Alabama’s state parks.
In recent years, Alabama (like many states) has struggled with budget challenges. The cost of programs like Medicaid have skyrocketed, while tax revenues have remained mostly flat. Unfortunately, the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, which runs the state parks system, has suffered as a result. Since 2012, the State Legislature has transferred $15 million from the state parks to help prop up the General Fund budget. (My first legislative session was in 2015, and I have consistently opposed these transfers).
Amendment 2 will put a stop to the “borrowing” and protect funding for our state parks. How? By forbidding the Legislature from transferring self-generated park revenue to other government agencies. For example, if Amendment 2 passes, state parks will be able to keep all revenue made on-site through merchandise sales or golf course fees.
Currently, it is difficult for state parks directors to plan long-term projects if the Legislature can swoop in at any time and transfer money from the parks to Medicaid or prisons. Here in northeast Alabama, the campground at Buck’s Pocket has closed because of budget cuts, while many other parks have been forced to cut hours of operation. Amendment 2 will stabilize the parks’ funding, make long-term capital projects possible, and allow the Department of Conservation to re-open parks like Buck’s Pocket.
Let me address one myth being perpetrated about Amendment 2. A few misinformed people on social media have said the amendment will allow the “privatization” of the parks. That is blatantly false. What Amendment 2 actually does is allow the Department of Conservation to contract with private entities to run certain operations, like a golf course or a hotel. Many cities, like Montgomery, do this successfully with their city-owned parks. Most state parks already have the ability to contract with private companies, and Amendment 2 would simply extend that option to all parks.
In northeast Alabama, we are privileged to be a short drive’s distance from Monte Sano, Lake Guntersville, Buck’s Pocket, Cathedral Caverns, and DeSoto state parks. These beautiful places need our protection. If Amendment 2 fails, funding for the parks will be under siege during the Montgomery budget battles, and there will again be calls to raid the parks to fund other agencies.
On November 8th, please join me in protecting our state parks for future generations by voting “yes” on Amendment 2.
Senator Steve Livingston represents District 8 in the Alabama State Senate, which is comprised of all or parts of Madison, Jackson, and DeKalb counties.